Featured Activists: Produce(n)Protest
Kandeaux is a wordsmith, activist farmer, policy wonk, and educator. Candace is systems, networks, codes, and innovation. They joined forces with fellow farmers of color—including Chicago urban hemp and viticulture legend Kenya Sample—to create a movement called Produce(n)Protest and a palette of digital power tools to make it all happen.
Produce(n)Protest asks the most weighted question in community food systems work today: how can activism intersect with agriculture to measurably upend the disparities entrenched in centuries of land-based institutional racism and economic injustice?
Their answer? By empowering consumers to buy directly from Black and Brown farmers using simple, accessible technology.
“This is the time,” said Kandeaux. “As everyone is focused on building those Black dollars, this work has got to go as deep as the roots in the soil.”
Produce(n)Protest will launch in fall 2020 as an aggregated CSA of BIPOC farm vendors located throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. Candace built an app called Farm Plug from which customers will order their “Solidarity Box” of locally grown food and other local goods for weekly pick-up or delivery. She noted, “People don’t look at farming as a tech-savvy industry, but it’s got to go in that direction,” especially as communities attempt to scale up their support of historically disenfranchised agrarians.
“Too often people at the beginning side of the supply chain are getting left out financially,” said Kandeaux. “That’s got to end.”
Featured Story: Michelle Ajamian
Michelle Ajamian starts our interview by reminding me of the Indigenous people to whom granary millers like her owe their livelihoods. Her digital email signature acknowledges the “traditional lands and territories of the Shawnee, Osage, Adena, and Hopewell peoples, where I live and work in Appalachia.”
“On this continent,” she writes, “we owe First Nation peoples, enslaved Africans, and farmers from the global majority gratitude for our agricultural wealth and rich cuisine built around corn, beans, and rice.”
“That’s where we have to start the conversation” about staple foods, she says.
Michelle is the principal owner of Shagbark Seed & Mill, an organic processing facility in Athens, Ohio, that she and her partner, Brandon Jaeger, started in 2010 to work with farmers from the region. She is a 2015 recipient of the Outstanding Woman in Innovation award and a frequent public speaker.
Michelle and Brandon had founded the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative (ASFC) in 2009, the informal network that led to the launch of Shagbark Seed & Mill. Michelle brought ASFC to Rural Action in 2019, to focus on supporting new enterprises and making the necessary connections to advance high-nutrition staple crops on a regional scale.
In early 2020, the North American Staples Network (NASN), was launched to connect Appalachia with other regions and connect leaders with one another. “A network of networks,” she calls it.
“We want to launch peer-to-peer learning strategies that can advance this movement.” Her team recently released the second edition of The Staple Pulse, a newsletter published by Rural Action in which news of NASN’s founding steering committee was announced. Lead partners span the Plains, east to west. “Our goal is to add people working in the Southwest, the Deep South, Mexico, or Canada,” she said.
That Michelle has her finger on the heart of America’s smallholder staples movement is an understatement.
NAFSN National Partner FEATURE: Wallace Center Completes Inaugural Cohort of Food Systems Leaders
The Wallace Center is a national nonprofit that bridges the gap between on-the-ground food systems practitioners with funders, public agencies, and experts in the field, the Wallace Center has been working as a support system and intermediary to create resilient local and regional food systems throughout the United States for almost 35 years. As a food systems leadership organization with a focus on advancing systems change, the Wallace Center is sharpening its focus on racial equity and anti-racism and is working to ensure that all of their initiatives and programs contribute to the dismantling of structural and systemic racism in the food system. Within the Wallace Center, there are two main focus areas: Food System Leadership Team and Resilient Agriculture and Ecosystems Team. The Food System Leadership Team develops and offers an accessible and varied suite of opportunities for food systems leaders to connect and strengthen their professional skills, technical knowledge, and organizational capacity. The team serves as the backbone for the Food Systems Leadership Network: a national peer learning community that connects current and emerging leaders, strengthens individual and collective leadership capacity, and fosters collaboration across communities to accelerate the realization of a just, equitable, and sustainable food system that generates good food, health, and opportunity for all. Along the same vein, the Resilient Agriculture and Ecosystems Team seeks to connect, inform, and empower educators, advocates, and leading practitioners working to advance regenerative agriculture in the Upper Midwest and U.S. as a whole. Although both teams have different focuses, they work together to achieve the goals of the Wallace Center.